Climate change challenge for new Cabinet

29 November 2007

So Rudd has chosen his cabinet. And while us greenies will be shining our (energy efficient) spotlights on the new Minister for Climate Change and Water, Penny Wong, and Environment Minister Peter Garrett, it will be up to the whole cabinet to work together to address the most pressing issue of our time.

Treasurer Wayne Swan was all over it this morning, recognising the sweeping economic impacts of climate change and promising to be more involved in the issue than his predecessor. “One of the greatest failures of the previous government was its incomprehension that climate change is an economic challenge as much as an environmental challenge,” he said.

I couldn’t agree more Mr Swan but there’s also work ahead for the whole cabinet. From Tony Burke in Agriculture, Fisheries and Foresty to Kim Carr in Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. And from Anthony Albanese in Infrastructure and Regional Development to Bob Debus in Home Affairs.

If we are to save our planet from dangerous climate change, the new government must, in its first term, stop emissions increasing and ready us for a rapid decline in pollution from then on. This means not only preventing new polluting coal plants being built, but also starting to replace the oldest and dirtiest with renewables and energy efficiency. The challenge is sweeping and the stakes are high. But if, as Rudd assures us, we truly have a new cabinet handpicked on talent alone, it is possible.

Yesterday, a new 750MW coal-fired power station opened in Queensland, and many more are proposed to open in the next few years. But as the head of the National Generators Forum (representing the 22 largest power generators in the country) confirmed yesterday, new coal-fired power stations are no longer economically viable without massive public subsidies or sweet heart deals from government.

This is a unique opportunity for both Federal and State governments. For the first time in a decade, the newly appointed Federal Cabinet has a the chance to free themselves from the clutches of the coal mafia, end coal-driven policy and deliver the necessary cuts to save our planet. History will judge these people on their ability to do this.